There are signs of life on the long-vacant East Toledo land known as the Marina District.
For more than a week, crews have been delivering piles of dirt and using machinery to smooth it out along the riverbank.
The work is part of a $250,000 “phytoremediation” project aimed at stemming soil erosion and contamination runoff from the once-industrial land into the Maumee River.
It involves using dredged material from the river and lake to fill in the land along the bank, followed by planting trees and other vegetation to soak up heavy metals and other pollutants from the soil.
But although Chinese-owned firm Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. purchased the Marina District from the city in July, the local government is implementing the remediation work.
Money for the project comes from a federal grant channeled to the city through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Council approved acceptance of the grant in October, 2010, but it has taken until now to start the project, city officials explained.
State natural resources officials were unavailable for comment Friday, but correspondence between the city and the agency’s Columbus office last summer indicates that the state and U.S. Forest Service approved of the work moving forward even though the land is now privately owned.
“The money was already allocated, and this is work we said we would do with that money,” city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said. “We were obligated to complete the work because we were awarded the funds already.”
Dashing Pacific purchased the Marina District for $3.8 million on July 2. The firm bought 69 acres of the total 125-acre site and has an option to purchase additional acreage, including the land where the Toledo Edison Acme power plant now stands. The city will ask for council’s approval next week to demolish the power plant.
About $43 million in taxpayer money was spent for cleanup and infrastructure on the land before the city sold it to the Chinese-owned firm.
Dashing Pacific has offered few specifics on its development plans.
However, Bill Rudolph, chairman of the Rudolph/Libbe Cos., which has been hired to do the development, said new construction will include office space, residential, hospitality, entertainment, service retail, and an education component.
As part of its purchase agreement, Dashing Pacific committed to maintain a permanent public access easement known as city of Toledo “lot A” adjacent to the Maumee River.
The agreement said the buyer will “develop a significant portion of city of Toledo lot A in a manner that will promote and preserve public use and enjoyment.”
In a statement, Dashing Pacific’s Toledo-based representative, Jimmy Wu, said the firm is aware of the city-run phytoremediation project and supports it.
“Improving the water quality of our rivers and lakes is a great use of public funds for a public common good,” he stated. “Dashing Pacific is very pleased to be part of allowing this project to proceed.”
The work did not sit well with Councilman D. Michael Collins, who questioned whether public money should be used to improve private land.
He said council should be allowed to vote on the grant again, given that circumstances have changed since its acceptance was approved.
“This is not private monies being used for this project. It is taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Collins said.
City officials “owe council an explanation as to how this is being funded and what is the justification for the mechanism of using public monies for private property improvements.”
Council President Joe McNamara called Mr. Collins’ concerns “much ado about nothing.”
He cited the state natural resources department’s approval of the project moving forward despite the change of hands and said the work will benefit the public in many ways. Preventing the land from eroding into the river is in everyone’s interest, he argued.
“Regardless of who owns [the land], we don’t want the Marina District to fall into the river,” he said. “It serves a public purpose. I don’t understand what the problem is.”
The work also improves the soil, which could open up greater possibilities for development and increase the value of the site, ultimately benefiting the surrounding community, Mr. McNamara added.
He said it also will contribute to research by the city in conjunction with the University of Toledo into the effectiveness of using phytoremediation to help clean up former industrial land.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.